Underrated Cody Gakpo looks ready to take central role again

There is so much love for this current Liverpool team, with Jurgen Klopp’s 2.0 era at the club arguably getting off to an even better start than many expected before this season.

Sunday’s thrilling 4-3 win at home to Fulham was far from perfect. There are flaws within this team, but the show of character suggested a Premier League title challenge is on the cards, on a day when they jumped ahead of Manchester City in the table.

Last season, you dread to think how that game would have panned out, with Liverpool’s fight, quality and belief nowhere to be seen, but the midfield surgery that took place in the summer transfer window has transformed Klopp’s side.

This is a Liverpool squad littered with players who are easy to get behind, whether it be boyhood Reds fan Trent Alexander-Arnold, new midfield star Dominik Szoboszlai or the always-entertaining Darwin Nuñez, among many others. However, someone whose stock has arguably fallen since August is Cody Gakpo.

The Dutchman arrived at Anfield during an extremely difficult period back in January, but he ended up being one of the few bright sparks to emerge from the second half of a dismal campaign on Merseyside.

Gakpo scored seven goals in his 26 outings in 2022/23, including a memorable double in the unforgettable 7-0 win at home to Manchester United, and there was so much to admire about what he brought to the team.

While far from the same player, there were instant similarities to be drawn between himself and Roberto Firmino, in terms of his ability to drop deep when leading the line, providing hard work off the ball and generally acting as the most understated member of the attack.

To truly understand his strengths, you had to analyse him closely, or face the risk of not appreciating him enough.

While less prolific than Mohamed Salah, and not as explosive as Luis Diaz or Nuñez, the 24-year-old was an aesthetically-pleasing watch, and he felt like a part of Liverpool’s best XI going into the new campaign.

Cody Gakpo, ProShots

It hasn’t yet panned out that way for Gakpo, however, who has had to accept playing second fiddle to Nuñez and Diogo Jota much of the time, with a lot of his chances to shine coming in the cups.

Only six starts have come his way in the Premier League and it is only natural that he has lacked the rhythm and confidence that stood out so much when he initially made the move from PSV Eindhoven at the start of the year.

There is no question that some of his performances haven’t been up to scratch, with his subtle style replaced by a genuine lack of influence at times, but there is still a feeling that he has become Liverpool’s most underrated player now.

All of these Anfield heroes will have spells of being flavour of the month or drifting out of the limelight, and he has drifted into the latter category.

This has been a good week for the Netherlands international, however – one that has hopefully seen some realise how important he remains to this Reds team.

Gakpo netted a brace in last Thursday’s comfortable 4-0 win over LASK, while on Sunday, he made a clear difference against Fulham, bringing calm to the attack and holding the ball up far better than the starting front three of Salah, Diaz and Nunez.

According to Sofascore, he won two ground duels, made one interception, was fouled on one occasion and also played a key role in the lead-up to Trent Alexander-Arnold’s winner, stinging the fingers of Bernd Leno with a longe-range strike.

Cody Gakpo, Liverpool vs LASK - Propaganda

Cody Gakpo, Liverpool vs LASK - Propaganda

Gakpo also made a selfless run off the ball in the 1-1 draw away to City late last month, creating space for Alexander-Arnold and allowing him to fire home, highlighting that aforementioned understated excellence.

There has been more impetus to his performance in these last few matches, and he is going to play a hugely important role during the festive period, at a time when Klopp will no doubt be shuffling his pack.

He feels like a player who needs a run in the team to fully see the best of him, as last season showed, and there will surely be a good chance of him starting either away to Sheffield United or Crystal Palace in the coming days.

There is so much love about Diaz and Nuñez, given their swaggering South American flair and goal threat, but there are still deficiencies in their game that can be problematic.

Darwin Nuñez, Propaganda

Both were below-par against Fulham, for example, with the former on the periphery of the action and the latter once again missing big chances, and while Gakpo won’t necessarily catch the eye as much or always find himself in the thick of the action, his Firmino-esque ability to knit things together can be priceless.

While a naturally languid presence on the pitch, he is someone with pace, physicality and end product to burn – he got 105 goal contributions (55 goals and 50 assists) in 159 appearances for PSV - and he is a more polished footballer than some of those around him.

Whether Klopp uses Gakpo on the left wing in place of Diaz, in a role has often played for PSV, or down the middle as a replacement for Nunez remains to be seen, but Liverpool’s attack could feel more balanced with him in it at the moment.

He has become so unsung of late, partly because of his own form dipping in fairness – he has still scored six goals in all competitions, though – but he is going to be a vital player for Liverpool in the coming months and years.

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